Oxford English Dictionary and Wikipedia

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Should You Trust a Wiki for Academic Research?

Would you trust the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) for its accuracy? Considered THE definitive dictionary of the English language, it is the final arbiter in definitions, etymology and usage.


Yet, by its very history and the nature of its compilation, it was exceeding similar to a Wikipedia.

The general consensus of responses to this assignment show very unfavorable ideas regarding the use of a Wiki as a research tool, the primary concerns being:

1) It is a compilation of many unverified sources

2) These sources are themselves not academically accredited or verified

3) Anyone can add to, change or influence the information

Interestingly enough, the compilation of the OED was much the same. Individuals, often anonymous and with no academic credentials sent in tens of thousands of entries along with definitions and examples of the usage of that work in literature.

As it so turns out, a leading contributer to the compilation project was factually a convicted criminal, submitting his entries from custody in an insane asylum.

From "The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary":

"When the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary put out a call during the late 19th century pleading for "men of letters" to provide help with their mammoth undertaking, hundreds of responses came forth. Some helpers, like Dr. W.C. Minor, provided literally thousands of entries to the editors. But Minor, an American expatriate in England and a Civil War veteran, was actually a certified lunatic who turned in his dictionary entries from the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Simon Winchester has produced a mesmerizing coda to the deeply troubled Minor's life, a life that in one sense began with the senseless murder of an innocent British brewery worker that the deluded Minor believed was an assassin sent by one of his numerous "enemies."

The volunteers contributing to the compilation were not themselves necessarily of literary achievement or recognition, yet made decisions which directly influenced the finished work. (Akin to anonymous wiki users determining content.)

Despite the above, this co-operative compilation project with its tens of thousands of submissions by some known, other anonymous and at least one insane person resulted in the creation of the OED, described as "...The accepted authority on the evolution of the English language over the last millennium" from http://www.oed.com/about/

Using a wiki as a primary or credible source is well established as a bad practice, as of course described on:


They can be a fantastic place to begin research, but are not an end to research themselves.

N.B The only links used in this article are wikipedia.com and the www.oed.com - two birds of a feather.

But of course you should research it for yourself.

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